Do Twitter and Freedom of Speech go Hand in Hand?

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Michael Smith, ESPN senior writer, has found himself in a little hot water after his comments regarding the Tour de France crash on Around the Horn, the half hour sports roundtable, that aired on Tuesday.

In the ninth stage of the Tour de France, Dutch cyclist Johnny Hoogerland, was clipped by a France Televison car that was attempting to avoid a tree. Hoogerland then tumbled into a barbed wire fence resulting in injuries that required 33 stitches. Flecha from Spain also incurred injuries including gashes and whiplash. During Around the Horn Michael Smith found and expressed his humor about the crash and followed up by discussing the comments on Twitter.


Smith tweeted:

For real, am I wrong for laughing at that Tour de France crash? Can’t get over the driver speeding off as if he didn’t know he hit someone!

I’m sorry that crash is hilarious. Every. Time.

There were a series of follow up tweets that eventually ended in an apology from Michael Smith that seemed a bit scripted but it was an apology nonetheless. Unfortunately, the apology wasn’t enough to appease the vocal cycling community. Today, the offended have started a petition and are calling for ESPN to take action against Smith and what seemed like a lack of contriteness following his appearance on Around the Horn and subsequent tweets.

Let’s get down to what’s important. First and most importantly, it’s Twitter. It’s not Psychology Today, The Intellectual Activist or The New York Times. It’s Twitter. I’m quite over celebrities and athletes being crucified for having an opinion and expressing it. I’m over the masses feeling entitled enough to disrespect celebrities, athletes and those in the public eye simply because they now have access to them via Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Tout, Google+, etc. I’ve watched (read) the famous get verbally attacked, cursed and their families disrespected simply because the fans don’t like the way a game was played or because they disagreed with a sports comment. Yet when those same fans are offended they want action. (Insert angry faces and fist pounding). We’re in an age of hypersensitivity. Every statement isn’t a personal attack against YOU. Every tweet isn’t meant to offend your sensitive nature. Get. Over. Yourself.

Secondly, while ESPN is a sports network, their on-air personalities are just that…personalities. ESPN stands for ENTERTAINMENT Sports Programming Network. Their analysts, anchors and writers are experienced journalists but their job is to entertain. What we witnessed from Michael Smith on Around the Horn and was no different than the entertaining appearances that we’ve seen from him in the past. Smith’s tweets were no different than what we typically see from him and more than 95,000 people enjoy them. He’s frequently irreverent, naturally clever, humorously forward, refreshingly honest and always brilliant. He knows sports, he knows how to connect with his audience and until this very moment, has been incredibly popular. Yes, I’m a fan and enjoy Michael Smith’s work. I’m also smart enough to understand that it’s only entertainment and that he’ll occasionally offend. It’s not personal.

So, how did I feel about the Tour de France crash? I’ll throw myself on the sword and say, in the moment, while watching Around the Horn, I saw the humor in it. That’s not to say that I don’t understand the backlash. Hoogerland’s injuries are nothing to laugh at, BUT in an 5 second clip, in the YouTube age that glorifies the Jackass crowd, I saw the humor. Maybe that makes me a jerk. Maybe it makes me less sensitive than the masses. Maybe it simply makes me human and less inclined to raise a stink over a few comments.

I find this situation to be a glowing example of overreaction. I truly don’t believe that Michael Smith meant any harm, he has apologized and was doing his job, a job that he excels at. Let’s move on people.

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83 COMMENTS

  1. Did you laugh when the world trade centers got in the way of 2 planes? by your neanderthalic knuckle dragger response acquitting a “famous person”(hopefully not for long since hes famous for…talking? wow.) laughing at a hardened athlete who is trying to earn his living by how well he performs. ANY crash can mean he’s out of work permanently if severe enough. and he also works more on his “off” days than anyone i know, or the author knows. REALLY? to be knocked out of an event with such repercussions as the TdF is NO laughing matter. Would you laugh if your significant other was hit by a car? and afterward thrown into barbed wire? I hope not. you should be disgusted that you dismissed this as nothing. I hope the driver is charged with attempted manslaughter with a deadly weapon. I hope the people who hired the “entertainer” realize that serious bodily injury is no joke, and fire his sorry ass. I hope the author of this gets on a bike once and tries to ride 100 miles in one ride. my guess is the writer is a slob who considers typing an aerobic activity. either way, finding enjoyment in others’ pain has two career possibilities. Guantanamo bay, or serial killer. quit typing. and to the anchor, QFT. STFU. quit. And dont raise offspring as twisted as you are.

    • A bike crash and 9-11 don’t compare at all… I agree that the driver should have to face legal action, I don’t think they were trying to hurt anyone on purpose but it was reckless none the less…but the rest of your comment comes from the depths of your moistarity…The authors picture is posted, do you really think she’s a slob? Have you took a 100 mile bike ride? Guantanamo bay, or serial killer? Wow… And ESPN isn’t going to fire a popular member of their staff for ONE mistake that he apologized for…QFT. STFU. quit.

      • While this persons response is obviously ridiculous I feel that its ok to be offended by Michael Smith’s comments. I will not compare cyclists to athletes in any other sport, but I will say this: ESPN’s coverage of cycling is insufficient to the point that the only time I can find coverage is when a horrible crash happens. If ESPN gives cycling the sort of coverage that Bob Saget used to give to home videos. In the clip Michael Smith talks about the Tour being a joke because of steroids and EPO’s as if these elements are completely absent from all other athletic endeavors. The clip is ridiculous, ESPN’s cycling coverage is ridiculous, and Michael Smith is ridiculous. Hoogerland is a bad ass.

        Have fun writing fluff for the BET of internet sports coverage.

        • Charles, I find it interesting how you in one keystroke complain of the lack of coverage for cycling. Then take a jab(or what you preceive as) at writing for the BET of the internet sports coverage. Is the “BET” audience any less deserving of service? Surely you jest? IF you feel you are a demographic that is ignored, use your voice and money to push your interest. SO should I follow your thought pattern, this is what I come up with: The “BET” of the internet and ESPN is a better demographic, and your beloved cycling is just a clip used for fodder….YOU ARE what you COMPLAINed about. Should I mention that you are here on the “BET” spot leaving your OPINION, and not on the cycling website!

  2. >Maybe that makes me a jerk.Maybe it makes me less sensitive than the masses.<

    It definitely does at that.

    Your comments expose an ignorance or lack of caring about the nature of being hit by a 2 ton automobile traveling at 30 mph. It also shows a callous disregard for the very serious nature of the injuries and just how close this came to being a fatal accident.

    In fact your blog on this subject may very well expose a lack of inquisitiveness into what caused that 'accident'. If you had bothered to inquire just a smidgen further or actually try and understand what you were listening to on the TdF feed you would have known that the car (and those following it) had been told by race officials NOT to pass the break away group as the roads were TOO NARROW. They choose to do so anyway, and that sir, is the crux of the outrage in the cycling community. The driver of that car made a decision that they were more important than the cyclists in front of them. They were ignorant of the very real consequences of their actions and choose to go full speed ahead anyway. In most jurisdictions that type of attitude, when it results in an injury, can be a criminal matter.

    Cyclists are tired of the type of motorists who are ignorant of the fact they're piloting lethal weapons and think they're more important than a cyclist who is sharing the road with them. That's what the outrage is about and there's nothing funny about the carnage that results from ignorance, bad judgement and occasionally outright malice.

    • What I did was understand the context of this particular situation. A 5 second feed on a program that is meant to give quick sound bytes on daily sports happenings. Could I have applied the research and include the tragedies of cycling? Yes. Would it have applied to this? No. At no point did anyone disregard the dangers of the sport or dismiss the challenges that cyclists face.

      Your anger SHOULD be directed toward the driver, the TdF and not a writer/analyst doing what he was supposed to do in that particular format.

      The ignorance lies in the fact that many have taken this as a personal attack on cyclists and it’s hardly that.

      • I understand your point, but respectfully disagree. You choose (and you’re free to do so as it IS your blog after all) to address this as primarily a Freedom of Speech Issue. I’m not arguing that Mr. Smith doesn’t have the right to say stupid lame things. He’s free to do so and he did. His series of tweets and the comments made on ESPN’s Around the Horn show he’s quite capable of being ignorant and heartless. 5 second feeds with serious injuries aren’t matters of derision nor humor and people need to accept the consequences of their statements on a public forum. No one expected Mr Smith to comment on the carnage (literally) that occurs on American roads every year in auto-bicycle accidents. What we have every right to expect is that a 5 second feeds such as this are not treated a s a comedy segment. If he’d simply commented “Can you believe that driver just kept on going?” he’d not be absent from Twitter today and not facing such a storm of controversy.

        There was nothing funny about the accident. And am I angry about the driver? of course. But I’m also angry the Mr. Smith thinks this is funny. He’d be howling in outrage if another ESPN commentator made the same comments about an illegal chop block in football that resulted in a broken leg. The best he deserves is some unpaid time off.

          • I’m not a cycling fan so thank you for the stats. That’s a horrible stat and I truly understand (better since my conversation this afternoon) the harm that cyclists face.

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